They are usually out working in the fields, but on 15 October last year thousands of women in Andhra Pradesh's rural Medak district took time out to witness history in the making.
Huddling around their radios, they tuned into the opening jingle and first broadcast of Sangham FM - a pioneering all-women rural community radio station set up with the help of Christian Aid and its southern Indian partner, the Deccan Development Society (DDS).
‘People in this region are very poor but we have a lot of knowledge about agriculture, seeds and medicine,’ explains Narsomma Algole, a young producer at the radio station.
‘In the past, we did not have a medium to communicate our knowledge to others.’
From narrowcast to broadcast
Made for the poor by poor rural women themselves, until now Sangham FM had to ‘narrowcast’ programmes to women’s sangham groups (women's collectives) on simple cassette recorders.
But now that that an official broadcast licence has been granted to the radio station, 50,000 people in 100 villages spanning an area of up to 30kms are now tuning in each day to hear people from similar communities sharing their knowledge and messages on issues as diverse as eco-agriculture, human rights and the environment.
‘I’d been told about biodiverse farming methods,’ said Rangamma, a local woman farmer. ‘But I thought it was just people telling me what to do and it wouldn’t work.
‘After I heard a programme by these radio people about how to grow crops without chemicals, I realized it could work. I tried it on my land and it’s really worked well.’
P.V. Satheesh, the director of DDS, hopes the new station is a sign that things are changing in India.
‘About 70% of India’s population live in rural areas and yet they have no space in the media whatsoever,’ he says.
But now their voice is beginning to be heard.
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